The Defence Research & Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) is developing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that will form an integral part of India’s efforts to develop a credible cruise missile defence system. The UAV called Nirbhay (fearless) will be both air-launched and ship-launched. The fast track project, believed to have been launched in late 2005, calls for the UAV to be developed as both a high-speed target drone capable of simulating the flight profiles of land-attack/anti-ship cruise missiles like China’s DH-10A and Pakistan’s Babur, as well as sea-skimming anti-ship missiles like the AGM-84A Harpoon and C-802A, both of which are operational with the Pakistan Navy.
In addition, a ground-launched conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant of the Nirbhay is also envisaged. This would be a high-speed, medium-altitude vehicle equipped with a 130-kg payload for standoff and theatre-level reconnaissance. It is in response to a specific air staff requirement of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
To be powered by a NPO Saturn-supplied 36MT turbofan rated at 400 kg thrust, the UAV’s target drone variant will be capable of cruising at a speed of Mach 0.92 at medium altitudes (10,000 feet) and 1,100 kph at sea level. The UAV will have a flight endurance of two hours, sea-skim at 10 metres above sea level and be able to pull up to 6.5 G. It would be equipped with a 130 kg payload (of up to 24 different types such as towed radar/infra-red reflector/augmentation devices, EW jammers and hit-scorer avionics). It will have a digital flight management system that will enable the drone to undertake various flight manoeuvres like snaking, pop-up and a 40-degree dive.
The ship-launched variant of Nirbhay will be equipped with twin solid-propellant boosters that will be ejected once the drone is airborne. For the IAF, it will be configured for launch from an IL-76MD transport aircraft. For recovery purposes, both variants of the drone will be equipped with parachutes and inflatable air-bags. The drone will have a maximum takeoff weight of 650 kg (minus the twin boosters), overall length of 5.5 metres, wingspan of 2.5 metres, and a fuselage diameter of 0.40 metres. The UAV’s theatre reconnaissance CTOL-UAV variant for the IAF will be equipped with a tricycle undercarriage, and its mission sensor suite will include an X-band inverse synthetic aperture radar (most likely the EL/M-20600 from ELTA Systems of Israel), a wideband two-way data link, and a ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation system coupled to a GPS receiver.
Maiden flight of the drone’s first prototype is scheduled for early 2009, while its CTOL-UAV variant is expected to fly later the same year. Present plans call for procuring up to 80 drones and 30 UAVs. Series production of the Nirbhay will be undertaken by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, while the 36MT turbofans will be procured off-the-shelf from NPO Saturn. Last October, NPO Saturn had inked a USD100 million contract with the DRDO, under which it will deliver, starting this December, a total of 200 36MT turbofans through to 2010.
Copyright 2007 FORCE.